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Anoushka Shankar: Music Makes the World a Better Place

Nenad Georgievski By

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Esoteric, eclectic and prolific, the Indian sitarist and composer Anoushka Shankar has mapped out an intriguing artistic path by delivering intriguing music that has veered between the modern and the traditional. Her ambitious, progressive and multicultural musical world view has been growing exponentially from a record to record and has taken her on a path of creating music without borders. For the past 20 years, she has been crossing border after border and culture with culture, and most of the time with some truly striking results. Her musical achievements were compiled in a retrospective overview of her career titled Reflections that grasps 20 years as a solo artist and more.

Reflections encapsulates a remarkable and unprecedented career. But, unlike most artists who use compilations as a springboard for gathering their best moments and nothing more, Reflections offers more than that as obviously the criteria for selecting this music is more emotional and personal than merely a greatest hits compilation. The selections' backgrounds were detailed in the album's illustrious booklet and they reveal Shankar's past, present and the future i.e. where she came from, where she is at the moment and what she stands for as an activist, a parent, as a musician and it offers a glimpse where her muse might take her in her future explorations. During the first half of 2019, Anoushka Shankar will be touring the US and in May she will play in Paris at the Philip Glass Weekend where she will perform the music from sitarist Ravi Shankar and composer Philip Glass' album Passages (Private Music, 1990).

All About Jazz: The choice of songs on Reflections is more emotional rather which makes it more than a mere collection of greatest hits, and the liner note denote that these map different moments in your personal life. What narrative do you feel these songs reflect for you?

Anoushka Shankar: I struggled to choose how to select songs for this compilation. I didn't know whether to choose my personal favourite songs or which mood I might want to follow; for example most of my albums have songs that are very energetic and also songs that are very mellow and I could have pitched this any number of ways. I ended up choosing an emotional arc and to try and see my own journey as a composer and musician through these albums that I have made over the past 20 years. It was strange to realize it had been that long since I had started making records and I was very grateful to have the opportunity to create this compilation.

AAJ: The music covers a period of 20 years and the selections come from different periods and the playlist isn't linearly assembled. What does the compilation say about your evolution both as a musician and composer?

AS: I do worry about sounding prideful but I am grateful to see some growth as a composer and musician across these albums; in no way do I feel done with that journey and I hope I will continue to grow over the coming years if I have the opportunity to keep making albums and music. I feel like my choices have changed over the years; and often I can struggle in any given moment when making music between whether I am thinking as an instrumentalist or as a composer as often my choices might be in opposition to each other. On 'Rise' for example it was my first album as a composer and I really stepped back as a sitarist. In fact on two songs there is no sitar playing whatsoever. I think this is an area where I have found some comfort over the years and managed to strike a bit more of a balance so that I can tell a story with my instrument and other voices as well.

AAJ: Throughout your career as an artist apart from Indian classical music there is a great deal of shape shifting and a desire to mix different influences and sounds into your own music and you have collaborated with a diverse cast of people. Where did the idea and desire to mix different musics, sounds and cultures come from? What has motivated you to constantly stretch your musical boundaries?

AS: The initial idea and desire to mix different music, sounds and cultures came from a desire to represent myself and my own life experiences within the music I was making as someone who has grown up across three continents and lived a very multicultural life. As far as what's motivated me to constantly stretch my boundaries: I am interested in growth and learning as a human being and I feel very excited by and grateful for the fact that as an artist I can use my work to interact with new cultures, learn about new people, learn about myself, have catharsis and hopefully have connection with other human beings and possibly even help people through music as well.

AAJ: The record Home (Deutsche Grammophon, 2015) is your returning to classical Indian music after years of experimenting and crossing musical borders.What keeps your interest in Indian classical music alive given all of the types of music you have been exposed to?

AS: Indian classical music is completely unique and has so much to offer the world. It has a fascinating dichotomy and juxtaposition in that it is simultaneously centuries and at times millennia old but also completely of the present moment through its oral tradition and improvisatory nature. It has been an incredible life lesson for me to learn how to be rooted and yet have a sense of my own individuality, to respect traditions whilst also moving forwards in time and also to feel that balance between spirituality and entertainment within music.

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